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NILES He's a man of steel and a good landmark



Published: Mon, September 9, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The artist has other pieces on display throughout the Valley.

By SHERRI L. SHAULIS

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

NILES -- He stands tall each day, performing his duties stoically.

Despite the time, the season or the climate, he never falters, never fails.

But it all begs the question:

"What is he doing there?"

"Steelworker," a 20-foot metal sculpture, marks the entrance to Niles Iron & amp; Metal Co. on state Route 46, his job for almost 10 years now.

Weighing more than 10 tons, the artwork depicts a man, clad in a bright yellow safety helmet and goggles, performing the duties of a steel worker.

"It's a fairly universal symbol of our area and a symbol of our business here," said Joel Clayman, whose family owns and operates the business that serves as home for the sculpture.

Clayman said the piece, created by Cleveland artist Rabbi Sidney Rackoff, is made from local materials, all found in the scrap yards at Niles Iron & amp; Metal.

"Steelworker" primarily features rejected steel coils made at mills throughout the Mahoning Valley.

"It was all built right here in our maintenance shop," Clayman said. "It took close to six months to build and everyone here got involved somehow."

How this occurred

The birth of "Steelworker" came about in a rather unorthodox manner, Clayman said. Several years ago, he and his brothers, Gary and Michael, were looking for something to give their parents as an anniversary present.

Rabbi Rackoff, who was in the area visiting relatives, happened to be at the scrap yard looking for material for his work, some of which had been displayed at the Eastwood Mall, Clayman said.

A conversation ensued and the brothers decided to commission a piece from the retired rabbi, who once worked in the steel mills himself.

"The one thing he asked for was total artistic freedom," Clayman said. He noted that was not a problem for the family since they were familiar with some of his other pieces.

Since its installation, the piece has become not only a symbol of the business, but a familiar landmark. When drivers call for directions to the business, Clayman instructs them to look for the "giant metal man out front. You can't miss it."

"I wouldn't say it happens every day, but at least several times a week, you see people stop to take pictures of him," Clayman said. "And it doesn't matter even if it's winter, they are there."

But "Steelworker" is not the only piece of Rackoff's on display locally.

A similar, but much smaller mill worker graces the front of the Teamsters Local Union 377 off Elm Road in Warren.

Rackoff's work has been shown at the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor museum in Youngstown, and pieces are on display at the Butler Institute of American Art on Wick Avenue in Youngstown.

"I understand he is a self-taught artist and he is very clever," said Lou Zona, director of the Butler. "He takes ordinary objects and sees potential figures in them."

Zona said three of Rackoff's pieces are on display at the museum, but he has seen his work in several locations throughout the area.

"He's using stuff that really is cast off from society," Zona said. "He is recycling materials that would otherwise be lost."

slshaulis@vindy.com




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